The Rideau Canal is made up of a series of lakes, rivers and canals spanning 202 kilometers (125 miles) from Kingston on Lake Ontario to the Ottawa River at Ottawa, Ontario, the capital of Canada.
The Rideau Canal was designated a National Historic Site in 1925 and is the oldest continuously operating canal system in North America. In 2007 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the following criteria: 1.) The Rideau Canal remains the best preserved example of a slack water canal in North America demonstrating the use of European slack water technology in North America on a large scale. It is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early 19th century that remains operational along its original line with most of its original structures intact. 2.) The Rideau Canal is an extensive, well preserved and significant example of a canal which was used for military purposes linked to a significant stage in human history - that of the fight to control the north of the American continent.
The Rideau Canal was originally created for military purposes. After the War of 1812 the government felt that without a direct supply route from Montreal to Kingston, Canada could become vulnerable in the event of an American attack. The St. Lawrence River was a difficult river to navigate so a new route would be chosen.
The person selected to carry out the work was Lieutenant Colonel John By of the British Royal Engineers. Colonel By was instrumental in the design and development of the canal, a 19th century engineering marvel.
When the canal was finally completed in 1832 the threat of war had diminished and the Rideau Canal was never used for the purpose it was intended for. Instead of a military supply line the canal was used extensively for commercial use, allowing goods to be shipped between Montreal and the Great Lakes. The Rideau Canal also facilitated the movement of settlers into sparsely populated areas of Upper Canada. Eventually bigger ships that could navigate the St. Lawrence River and the completion of several railroads saw the demise of commercial vessels on the canal.
Today the Rideau Canal is used exclusively as a recreationalg waterway. Boaters can travel the Rideau Canal between Ottawa and Kingston through a series of 45 locks, most manually operated. The canal opens for summer boat traffic from mid May until mid October.
During the winter part of the Rideau Canal is cleared of snow and transformed into a 7.8 km (4.8 mile) skating rink, the largest skating rink in the world.
Photo Courtesy of Ottawa Tourism
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